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"Rethink it" revisited

By Win Smith

Last week's editorial entitled "Rethink it" encouraged the Warren Planning Commission to "stick to its guns" on the issue of pedestrian access between Sugarbush Resort and Sugarbush Village. Specifically, it implied that there was currently no foot access between the Lincoln Peak base area and the village, and that the issue should be resolved before revised permits are issued for Sugarbush's next development phase. The editorial was inaccurate.

There is pedestrian access between Clay Brook and the Sugarbush Village. Sit in the parking lot on any given afternoon during the season, and you will watch guests leave the hotel and the resort base area, walk across the groomed hard-packed snow by the Village Double chair, across a wide pedestrian bridge (installed by Sugarbush) and into the Sugarbush Village parking lot. With kids in tow, it's approximately a five- to seven-minute stroll. In the summer, the same path is mowed to highlight the route and make for easy access.

However, having a better interconnected Vermont mountain village has always been and continues to be a priority for me and my team at Sugarbush. The "original" Sugarbush Village is an important part of our history and future, and Sugarbush has strived through the years to be a good neighbor. If you want to see evidence of that commitment, simply take a look at the base of Lincoln Peak: Sugarbush has invested over $60 million in a new hotel, base lodge, restaurant, parking lots, roads, water-quality improvements, and stream restoration in an effort to expand The Valley's appeal as a destination and encourage both more skier visits as well as warmer season activities. Everyone knows that more people visiting the resort means that more people will seek dining at The Valley's restaurants and frequent our many shops. This means more business not only for us at Sugarbush but also for enterprises in Sugarbush Village and the entire Valley. But being good neighbors is a two-way street and to date there has been no discernable attempt by Village property owners to reciprocate our efforts.

There are numerous grants and loans available to small businesses in Vermont looking to increase their marketability through capital improvements. The Rural Business Enterprise Grant administered by the Vermont Community Loan Fund and the Vermont Economic Development Authority's Small Business Loan program are just two. Business.gov has a Small Business Loans and Grants search tool that opens the door to a dozen others. Any one of these funding mechanisms could be obtained by the Mad River Valley Planning District or the village property owners to contribute to an expansion of pedestrian access. Sugarbush is still committed to creating a vibrant ski village at the base of Lincoln Peak, but it's time for all interested parties to join the effort.

Why not form a Sugarbush Village Association? Collect dues that go to capital improvements and connectivity initiatives? If village properties want more people visiting, why aren't they taking the initiative to promote such traffic? Is that not what businesses do when they want to succeed?

Everyone, including Sugarbush Resort, is feeling the pain of the times. If village property owners are unwilling to contribute dues, use the formation of an association to research and secure grant funding that will promote an increase in visitor traffic. If village property owners take the initiative to form such an association and commit to securing grant or loan funding, Sugarbush will be more than happy to collaborate with businesses in the Sugarbush Village so that everyone sees more people walking through their doors.

As someone who is committed to this Valley for the long term, I am more than willing to commit my personal funds to help everyone succeed, and I think our record speaks for itself. But I have a fiduciary responsibility to spend our money wisely, and I cannot be the silk purse for everyone's desires. The Nobel Laureate economist Milton Friedman said it best: "People spend other's money differently than they spend their own." It is time for more to commit their funds to the sustainability of the mountain and The Valley.

Smith is the president of Sugarbush Resort.



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